Lee Ann Womack Preached the Gospel of Country Music at the Kessler Last Night

Lee Ann Womack rounded off back-to-back nights at the Kessler on Thursday
Lee Ann Womack rounded off back-to-back nights at the Kessler on Thursday
John Scarpati

Lee Ann Womack With Adam Hood Kessler Theater, Dallas Thursday, May 7, 2015

Say what you want about pop-country, but there is plenty of good music that has been created under this banner. Glen Campbell and Conway Twitty probably wouldn't be such legends without their impressive crossover successes. In the 1990s and 2000s, though, the pendulum swung too far in one direction, and it seemed almost as if the music industry was trying to scrub away all the country in this music, shining it up and making it palatable for the masses. Lee Ann Womack is that era's glaring exception.

See also: The 50 Best Red Dirt Texas Country Songs

Even as she was persuaded by record execs to "tone down the country" on "I Hope You Dance," the song that made her an international star, she refused. Hailing from East Texas -- Jacksonville, to be exact -- Womack has always fiercely stayed true to her twangy timbre and authentic sound, both of which were beautifully showcased last night at The Kessler Theater.

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In the final show of her two-night stand at this tiny, intimate venue, Womack's pipes were under attack from all the pollen that is currently coating Dallas-Fort Worth. Womack reportedly warned audiences on Wednesday night that she was under the weather, a fact evidenced by a few missed notes and vocal fatigue. Last night, though, she appeared to have made a miraculous recovery. Allergies be damned; Womack was determined to give Dallas an incredible show last night -- and so she did.

Before Womack took the stage, Adam Hood played an intimate if too short set of songs he's written for himself and others. Hood is one of those guys in country music that has really never been as successful as he deserves, save a few hits written for acts like Little Big Town and Womack herself, and last night's show was proof of that. As Hood wound through his impressive body of work, he dragged the audience through a gambit of emotions -- love, grief and longing chief among them. A rendition of "He Did," a song written about his late father, easily brought the tears.

In reality, Hood should not be an opening act under any circumstances; he should be filling arenas. He certainly has better vocal and songwriting chops than most of his male contemporaries that have made it big, and has a track record of writing hits, even if he's not the one singing them. This year, though, it seems as if Hood is finally getting the notice he deserves from Nashville. Fortunately, at 39 years old, he still has plenty of time to collect what country music owes him.

When Womack took the stage, the crowd rose to its feet and welcomed their priestess. Radiance poured through her naturally sunny disposition as she launched into the forlorn opening notes of "Never Again," and she danced throughout the set in a brand new pair of vampy black Louboutins purchased at Northpark earlier today. After "20 Years and Two Husbands," Womack is as strong as ever as a performer and vocalist.

There were a number of moments in last night's show that felt like Womack was leading honky-tonk church instead of performing in an old theatre. As she sang "All His Saints," a deeply religious track with plenty of gospel and bluegrass influence, Womack was preaching the gospel of good, authentic country music, and the surprisingly rowdy crowd was there to worship. If all preachers sounded like Womack, it would probably be a lot easier to get all us sinners in the sanctuary.

In her performance, Womack sings like an actor. She's much more of a storyteller than a songstress, and every note, every vocal run, sounds exactly as it should. Despite those allergies, there were almost no instances in which Womack's voice couldn't take her exactly as high as she wanted to go. On "Chances Are," the best track from her 2014 release The Way I'm Livin', Womack noted that this was one of her favorite tracks that she's ever cut. In listening, it was easy to understand why; Dallas boy Hayes Carll must have had her honey-coated vocal chords in mind when he was writing that song.

There is a nuance in Womack's voice that is really unparalleled by any woman in music, country or otherwise. Even if she is indulgent with the vocal runs or lingers on a note too long, it feels deliberate and intentional. This nuance was most powerfully on display in a cover of folk classic "Wayfaring Stranger." Womack's rendition was haunting and ethereal as she walked with the story from the darkness and into the light. It is this quality, an ability to speak volumes without saying anything at all, that makes her so special as a vocalist.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Lee Ann Womack show without a performance of "I Hope You Dance," a song that has an enduring quality that keeps the world's best songwriters up at night. You can tell that it's not her favorite track to perform, but she doesn't begrudge the audience a listen. As it wrapped, the crowd was at its feet again, probably praying that the show wasn't over.

It wasn't, but it soon would be. As Womack played "Ashes By Now," a single released just after "I Hope You Dance," it became clear that maybe she hasn't been given her due by country music, either. At the height of her pop-driven popularity, Womack was selling out arenas. Now that she's recording the best work of her career, though, she's playing tiny venues like The Kessler. C'est la vie. Fortunately, that means there will be plenty more opportunities for Womack to take us all to church.

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The Kessler Theater

1230 W. Davis St.
Dallas, TX 75208

214-272-8346

www.thekessler.org


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